The guest list at a BeBe & CeCe Winans concert in Los Angeles typically reads like a who's who of black music.
Recent local appearances by the brother-sister duo have seen friends Whitney Houston, Jasmine Guy and Aaron Hall (of the hit R&B; group Guy) taking the stage for impromptu duets. Backstage, the holding area might be jammed with yet more famous friends, like Luther Vandross and Bobby Brown.
It's not just that a show by the Winans siblings (who headline the Wiltern Theatre tonight and Thursday) is the glitzy place to be, although they certainly count as peers with their celebrity pals at this point--having two recent No. 1 R&B; singles ("Addictive Love" and the current chart-topper "I'll Take You There") and a No. 1 R&B; album ("Different Lifestyles") to their credit.
The gravitation has more to do with the fact that, as gospel singers who have risen to the top ranks of secular soul music, BeBe and CeCe have become virtual chaplains to the industry.
When this unofficial title is mentioned, they both laugh, but not so heartily that they laugh it off.
"We expected that," says CeCe. "Our music has crossed from the gospel realm over into the realm of the mainstream, where a lot of people don't really know about God. I believe that's one of the main reasons God has put us there--not to preach to them that you should do this or you should stop that, but just to share with them what God has been to us.
"We find that a lot of them started there in church and were hurt or found so many hypocrites in the church that they got totally turned off. We're just here to let them know that men will fail you every time but God is the same yesterday, today and forevermore."
Indeed, it's not hard to trace the church backgrounds of many of the duo's friends: Longtime supporter Houston, for whom BeBe will soon be producing an album of Christian music, comes from a famous gospel family. Hammer, a labelmate on Capitol Records who contributed a rap to their recent song "The Blood," used to be a Christian rapper. BeBe has also been producing and writing songs for Vandross' and Brown's upcoming projects.
"I think they trust us," notes CeCe of the coterie of hitmakers surrounding them. "In this industry, it's hard to find real people, people who aren't all wrapped up in the phoniness of a lot of it. I know Whitney expressed that before we met her she never really hung out with anybody in the industry, and she felt she could be herself with us. It wasn't wrapped up in the Whitney Houston that we saw on stage, but we loved her as a person."
Adds BeBe, "You can have a No. 1 album, you can have a No. 1 single and everything in the world materially, and in the midst of that you still have hurts, still have pain, still have disappointments. And people never dream that those entertainers ever get down.
"(Fans) feel like (stars) have everything so they're not crying at night, but they are. So when you find someone you can share that with and not worry about it being in the tabloids the next day, you hold on to those people."
BeBe and CeCe--who've sung as a duo since their days in the PTL Singers a decade ago--are sometimes confused with the group made up of five of their brothers, known simply as the Winans, that's also had several R&B; hits.
And, rivaling even the legendary Jackson clan, there are plenty of other recording Winans to go around on labels both Christian and secular, including Mom and Pop Winans, Daniel, Vickie (who just released an MCA album) and yet three more sisters who've formed a trio called, yes, Sisters.
None of these relations has deep roots in traditional black gospel, since they were influenced as youngsters more by Andrae Crouch's pop-tempered black sound. And BeBe and CeCe certainly don't look the traditional part any more than their urban-contemporary strains sound it, being sharp, natty, colorful dressers.
Where they do toe the line is in sticking resolutely to strictly Christian themes in their lyrics, though sometimes their spiritual sentiments are vague enough to be taken as romantic reveries by casual radio browsers.
"BeBe's lyrics don't always say Jesus Jesus Jesus , but he doesn't purposely not say that," says CeCe, who, like her brother, recently moved from the family's native Detroit to Nashville with her husband and two children. "Some of his music does. Some of it might just take the Scripture out of the Bible and then compare it to your natural relationships.
"People do come to our concerts sometimes not really knowing what to expect because they've just heard 'Lost Without You' or some of our other singles. They get there and it's like, 'Oh wow! I came to church! I didn't mean to come to church!' But they stay and they enjoy it."
Non-gospel songs will apparently never be a part of their act, though the duo stops short of coming down on Christian artists like Amy Grant who've branched out in their themes.
"There's nothing wrong with singing about the trees or the flowers, but why sing about those things when you can sing about the one who created those things?" asks BeBe. "To me, gospel music and what we sing about, it's first class. So once you've been in a Rolls-Royce, it's hard to drive a Chevy. . . . Our music does more than just entertain. It gives answers and heals."